andy warhol by Lily Darling March 29, 2019
In preparation for her second studio album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish has partnered with Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami to release a secondary music video for her song “you should see me in a crown.”
Since her debut 2015 song “Ocean Eyes,” Eilish has hit the ground running. At only 17 years of age, she has risen as one of the most influential artists on the scene.
The teaser shows a cartoon version of Eilish in Murakami’s signature Superflat form. The video quickly switches from shots of Murakami’s iconic flowers to Eilish’s horrific transformation into a spider–a nod to the original music video for the song which features live spiders crawling both onto and out of Eilish.
This disturbing use of body horror is developed from the pervasive violence that comes from Murakami’s greatest influence: Japanese manga and anime.
Murakami, one of the most significant artists to have emerged from post-war Japan, is known for founding the post-Modernist “Superflat” movement. Superflat draws upon the artistic influences of manga and anime, developing a still version of “animetic” effects achieved through camera’s motion without adjusting images to keep them in scale with the movement.
Murakami’s signature does not eliminate layers of perception but rather removes their hierarchy, making the viewers organize the information given to them themselves.
This is not the first time Murakami has collaborated with musical artists. He has provided visuals for Kanye West–most notably for his 2007 album Graduation–as well as the more recent cover for West and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts.
West originally contacted Murakami with interest in viewing the Japanese artist’s sculpture Hiropon, a pornographic female figure study often partnered with a similar statue, My Lonesome Cowboy. These works are often said to both mimic and parody a historical perspective of the human figure, from the Paleolithic Venus figurines to the pin-up girls of the 1950s.
After this studio visit, their relationship blossomed and West contacted Murakami months after to design the cover of his groundbreaking album Graduation.
Murakami is an expert at blurring the lines between the elitist concepts of “high art” and commercial consumption, most clearly seen by his collaboration with “high fashion” brands such as Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton.
Murakami introduces the joyous iconography of pop-culture reproducibility (continually recycling the images of his rainbow-petaled flowers and jellyfish eyes) but also dirtying the very images he puts forth with gruesome figures sometimes hidden within the rainbow chaos of his larger pieces.
With this teaser, it is clear that Murakami is treading on the darker side of his work to match with the ghostly vibration of Eilish’s song. The lyrics, inspired by a line from Jim Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, are just as haunting as the moody, nearly whispered vocals. While the full music video is exclusively on Apple Music, the teaser trailer has garnered a great deal of hype with the collaboration between the two artists.
Murakami and Eilish have not been the first to collaborate in this way. Probably one of the earliest and more influential meldings of the modern studio art and musical worlds was with the mentorship between Andy Warhol and the rock band The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Warhol helped produce, record, and provide art for their most recognized self-titled album. The Velvet Underground was one of the first bands to write songs completely centered around the seedy underbelly of New York City.
It is crucial, of course, to acknowledge that The Velvet Underground got every cue they ever had from the jazz musicians of their time–from their music to their performative aesthetics.
Warhol was an incredibly successful commercial artist who used his network to mentor younger artists. His fourth-floor loft on East 47th street, The Factory, quickly became the epicenter of New York City pop culture from the 60s into the late 80s.
Warhol, as a gay man in the 1960s, was a mirror for those abandoned in the margins to be reflected back into the center of pop culture.
This collaboration demarcated the end of modernism. In a very strange way, this was the bottom falling out of the Beatnik generation, marking a transformation into the era of OG hipster culture.
More recent examples of these collaborations transcend genre.
Will Cotton is a contemporary American painter known for his hyperrealistic paintings of women and candy. In 2010, he paired with Katy Perry to create the album art for her album Teenage Dream.
This piece, formed as a modern take on a cherubic nude, was one portrait of many Cotton painted of Perry.
Three years later, the artist Jeff Koons, famous for his massive, chrome balloon sculptures, created the cover art for Lady Gaga’s 2013 album ARTPOP. The cover features Gaga and one of Koons’s iconic “gazing balls” with a backdrop of fragmented paintings of Greek myth: from The Birth of Venus to Apollo and Daphne.
This was the first time Gaga brushed up against the art world in 2013: the famous performance artist Marina Abramovic described Gaga as her “daughter” in an interview with MTV. Abramovic has also collaborated with Jay-Z–a relationship that quickly went sour.
As artists are forced to adapt to their surroundings, there will always a continuous melding of both visual and musical forms. These collaborations only enhance the work produced and give an added layer of depth behind its meaning for their audiences to unpack.